Roger D. Markwick
World War II has never ended for the citizens of the former Soviet Union. Nearly 27 million Soviet citizens died in the course of what Joseph Stalin declared to be the Great Patriotic War, half of the total 55 million victims of the world war. The enduring personal trauma and grief that engulfed those who survived, despite the Red Army's victory over fascism, was not matched by Stalin's state of mind, which preferred to forget the war. Not until the ousting of Nikita S. Khrushchev in October 1964 by Leonid Brezhnev was official memory of the war really resurrected. This article elaborates a thesis about the place of World War II in Soviet and post-Soviet collective memory by illuminating the sources of the myth of the Great Patriotic War and the mechanisms by which it has been sustained and even amplified. It discusses perestroika, patriotism without communism, the fate of the wartime Young Communist heroine Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, the battle for Victory Day, the return of ‘trophy’ art, the Hill of Prostrations, and Sovietism without socialism.
When World War II ended in Europe, many assumed that the sheer level of destruction, hatred, and fear unleashed by the conflict would produce a Europe even worse than the one they recalled from the 1930s. Only in Germany was the moment captured linguistically, in the concept of Stunde Null, hour zero, for the German population almost certainly expected the worst from the catastrophic defeat of Adolf Hitler's Reich. The Cold War and racial realities of Europe between 1945 and 1949 contributed to the idea that the two German states created in 1949, the Federal Republic in the West and the Democratic Republic in the East, were new experiments in democratic politics quite distinct from the legacy of a united Germany since 1871. Much of the historical literature on European economic recovery has focused on West German revival. The gulf between the years of recession, poor trade, state restrictions, and planning for war in the 1930s, and the booming consumer and construction sectors in the 1950s, made it evident that something changed dramatically in 1945.
The Old Regime army had been battered by serial defeats during the eighteenth century, and was open to proposals for reform. When 1789 came it was not army reforms that spread despair and trauma but the political situation created in the early years of the French Revolution: the assault on privilege, the ambivalent attitude of the king, the crisis of loyalty which this created for the officers, and the gaping void in the army’s ranks caused by desertion, emigration and the ideology of the Rights of Man. The defeats that followed the declaration of war added to despair, and it was only by resort to further traumatic measures—radicalizing recruitment, promoting officers from the ranks, and amalgamating the line army with the new volunteers, and ultimately the resort to Terror—that the fortunes of the army were turned around.
This essay explores how Europeans experienced the First World War. Consent in wartime was generated from the bottom up rather than choreographed by the state. Civil society and commercial mass entertainment played a vital role in sustaining morale among civilians and the troops. Far from being alienated from each other, people in and out of uniform remained in constant communication. Moreover, the drive towards ‘total war’ broke down the barrier between military and non-military spheres and transformed enemy civilians into targets and one’s own civilians into an important resource. Atrocities were committed, people at the home front attacked from the air, civilians forced to flee their homes, soldiers brutalized and prisoners of war maltreated; and yet, the war cannot be described as an unmitigated demographic catastrophe. To be sure, it left a legacy of mass bereavement and a memory culture that endured long beyond the caesura of 1918.